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TEST&MEASUREMENT

MOSFET Testing
using a Multimeter
Yes it can be done
By Carlo Cianferotti

carloc@infol.it

This short article will deal with testing power MOSFETs using an ordinary
digital multimeter. Anybody who have ever tried this must have marvelled
at strange readings and short circuits found even on surely working
devices. Of course, there is no magic involved!
Testing bipolar transistors, whether low or
high power, is all plain sailing if you have just
an ordinary ohmmeter available and know (1)
the connections on the device and (2) the six
steps involved. Such a simple test should
spot 8 out of 10 defective bipolar transistors,
although your editor had to admit defeat with
some high-power UHF RF transistors he tried
to examine the other day. For example, an
MRF646 50-watts beast checked out just
fine electrically but its in-circuit power gain
was nothing to write home about! Returning
to the subject of our article, MOSFET testing
is a different (but not necessarily nasty
smelling) kettle of fish.

Whither charge and voltage?


It can be argued that MOSFETs are charge
controlled devices, because the gate, which
is the control electrode, represents a virtually ideal capacitor exhibiting an extremely
low leakage current. However, the same
charge produces a voltage, which in turn
determines the degree of conduction so
these wonderful devices may equally be
called voltage-controlled.
No matter if voltage or charge-controlled,
when a MOSFET is out of its circuit, any
charge stored in it will stay there, keeping the
device on if it is positive, or keeping it off if it
is negative (we are talking of most common
N-channel devices, for P-channel MOSFETs

52

you just have to reverse any polarity


involved). For an N-channel device,
negative also means below the
threshold necessary for switching
the MOSFET on.
In fact when you handle a MOSFET for testing pulling it from the
circuit or from its protective packaging your fingers, the soldering iron
etc., will typically cause a random
charge to be stored in the gatesource equivalent capacitor.
The first thing to be done is give
this charge a known value because
only then does it become possible to
check the drain-source path (junction) for correct on/off operation.
Lets see how this is done in practice.

MOSFETs on and off.


Now its time to lay your MOSFET
on the table surface. No matter if
the surface of the table is conductive or not, the most important point
to observe is that the MOSFETs
leads do not touch anything. Also
be sure not to touch the leads or
probe tips with your fingers so as
not to lose any stored charge. In the
case of power MOSFETs, the Drain
tab can be freely touched and laid
on the table surface, but a safer
method is to pick up and hold the
power MOSFET by the tab, then
touch the table surface with your
other hand, and only then lay the
MOSFET on the table.

Preparing for testing

Lets test again

First of all you have to switch your


digital multimeter to the Diode
Check range. This way your multimeter will supply the junction under
test with a voltage thats usually of
the order of a couple of volts (opencircuit) and a current limited to a
few milliamps. This is just what we
need dont try to use an ohm
range since the voltage supplied is
then much lower (approx. 0.2 volts)
and certainly not enough to switch

At his point you are ready for the


actual testing, which involves a
number of steps described below.
1. In the first test we switch the
MOSFET off and test its gate-source
(GS) junction.
MOSFET
Meter

Gate

Source

(black lead)

(red lead)

Elektor Electronics

Expected
reading
Open
circuit

5/2003

TEST&MEASUREMENT
500 mV for the forward diode drop.

BUK 466-200A
40

ID

MOSFET

Drain

Source

[A]

30
Meter

(black lead)

(red lead)

Expected
reading
Open
circuit /
Forward
diode
drop

20

Tj
=
[C]

3. Now its time to switch our MOSFET on.

10
150

MOSFET

25

Meter

V GS
[V]

030031- 11

(red lead)

(black lead)

BUK 542-60A/B

This way you double check that the gate is


not short-circuited. A wrong reading at this
point is very rare, but nonetheless you should
discard your device if you dont see an open
circuit.

MOSFET

150

Meter

Drain

Source

(red lead)

(black lead)

Drain

Source

12
MOSFET

8
Meter

V GS

8
030031- 12

[V]

Figure 2. As Figure 1, but for a Logic FET, in this case the BUK542-60A/B.

Any reading other than open circuit


means that gate is short-circuited to
the source and that the MOSFET
may be discarded without the need
for any further testing.
2. Now that we have the off charge
in the gate we can test if the drainsource (DS) junction is opened.
Most MOSFETs have an integral
reverse protection diode across the
drain and source and this may be
tested simply by reversing the test

5/2003

Elektor Electronics

Open
circuit

25

Tj
=
[C]

16

Expected
reading

4. Now that we have the on charge in the


gate, all we have to do is check the drainsource junction for proper conduction. This
should be done using both polarities because
when a MOSFETs is on, it acts as a small
value resistor, irrespective of the direction of
the current flow.

28

20

Source

10

Figure 1. Typical transfer characteristics of an ordinary power MOSFET, in this case,


a BUK446-200 from Philips Semiconductors. Graph shows ID = f(VGS) at VDS =
25 V, with two values of Tj as parameters.

ID
[A] 24

Gate

voltage polarity.
MOSFET
Meter

Drain

Source

(red lead)

(black lead)

Expected
reading
Open
circuit

Any reading other than open-circuit


means that MOSFET has a short circuit and should be discarded.
Meters usually give readings in mV
in this range, so you can expect
something between 250 mV and

(black lead)

(red lead)

Expected
reading
Short
circuit
Expected
reading
Short
circuit

If you dont get these results, the MOSFET


has a permanently open-circuit Drain-Source
junction and should be discarded.
If the suspect MOSFET has passed steps 1
through 4 successfully it can be relied upon
to work properly. As a matter of fact, voltages
and currents delivered by multimeters are
usually much lower than those required for
effective testing of power MOSFETs (IRF,
BUZ, etc.) but nonetheless this simple test
procedure has given very good results over
years of field tests.
If you look at the ID = f(VGS) graph in Figure 1, youll notice that conduction starts at
a gate-source voltage of 3.5 to 4 volts, while
at 5 volts (i.e., TTL High level) some 15 A is
allowed to flow through the drain-source
junction. The graph is for a Philips BUK466200A which can be describes as a typical
example of a power MOSFET.

53

TEST&MEASUREMENT
Other devices called logic FETs start to conduct at slightly lower levels of VGS, for example, at about 2 V already in the case of the
BUK542-60 (see Figure 2). This makes these
devices the perfect choice for direct insertion
between a logic output such as a microcontroller port line set up as an output and a (very
heavy) load like a power relay or a motor.
Again, this is an example only and the graph
should not be taken to apply to any old logic
FET see the notes below on finding exact
datasheets of the device(s) youre working on.

P-channel devices
and the ohmmeter
If you wish to test a P-channel device you
should obviously swap the polarity of the test
probes in the above tables.
Using an analogue moving coil multimeter

54

is also possible but these instruments usually do not sport a Diode


Check range. This requires some
investigation about the open circuit
voltage and short circuit current supplied by the meter. You should aim at
one ohm range to get 2-3 V and 5-20
mA respectively which is ideal for
safe testing. You can find out by connecting a second multimeter to the
one used for testing MOSFETs. First
select a voltage range and the check
open circuit voltage on the probes,
then switch to current range and
note the short circuit current. Usually
the OHM1 or OHM10 range will do
the job. Finally, as we are sure you
will note at some point when
attempting to use an old fashioned
ohmmeter, the (black) lead is usu-

ally positive (+) and vice versa!

Whence the pinout?


At the risk of stating the obvious, you
should always know exactly where
the gate, source and drain pins are
on the device you wish to test using
the method described in this article.
Educated
guesses,
a friend told me and seem to
remember are worthless in this
respect and may lead to costly mistakes and hours of fruitless efforts at
repairing equipment. The information
you want should be obtained from
manufacturers data books or from
original datasheets downloaded from
the manufacturers website.
(030031-1)

Elektor Electronics

5/2003